Recent clinical data presented at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes indicate that Swiss drug giant Novartis’ investigational type 2 diabetes agent vildagliptin (LAF 237) may enhance and maintain the structure and function of cells in the pancreatic islets, resulting in long-term glucose control and ultimately slowing progression of the disease.

Clinical data from a Phase IIb trial of the drug, the first in a new class of oral antidiabetics known as dipeptidyl peptidase IV inhibitors or incretin enhancers, show that patients given a combination of vildagliptin and metformin for one year experienced a better insulin response following a meal compared to those taking metformin alone.

Furthermore, findings from a preclinical study suggest that the compound has the ability to increase the production of pancreatic beta cells by boosting the action of incretin hormones. Vildagliptin therapy was found to reduce the rate of beta cell death as well as increase beta cell replication, signifying a two-tiered action that resulted in a 40%-50% rise in the number of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, the company said.

Commenting on the potential of the drug, Professor Jens Holst from Copenhagen University in Denmark, stated: “We have a very clear therapeutic principle, a simple pill a day, and vildagliptin may be as effective as any of the known therapies. Vildagliptin may have a durable effect on glucose control with the potential of slowing disease progression, which makes this a very important development.”

Novartis hopes that the agent, with its multiple potential benefits over current approaches, will strengthen its presence in the substantial diabetes market which, according to the World Health Organization, looks set to double by 2030. Analysts are also enthusiastic about the vildagliptin’s future, forecasting peak annual turnover in excess of $1 billion.